25 November 2020 | “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
I concede that, given the previous two blog entries, this one is a bit of a non-sequitur, but you can't just keep banging on about covid all the time, can you. That would strain even the awe-inspiring powers of concentration and positivity of our long-suffering, loyal readership.
All three of them.
We were driving back to the boat after a brief sojourn in Portugal. This is not an exercise to be undertaken lightly. We used to drive the 2000 kilometres from Lagos to St. Malo in two days. Mind you, that was in an Audi 80 quattro. It's a completely different kettle of fish in a campervan, especially in a modified garden shed shoe-horned onto a 1994 Fiat Ducato van chassis. In this, the exact same route took us a week.
On the second day I noticed something slightly odd about Einstein. I looked at her and thought 'That doesn't look quite right.'
Einstein has inherited a fairly unusual permutation from the Mediterranean feline gene pool. Most of them have long, narrow snouts that give them a slightly untrustworthy, spivvy air, a sort of furry, ginger version of Private Walker in Dad's Army*. Einstein, on the other hand, has a snub snout and a very symmetrically round face that gives her an air of loveable innocence and reassuring trustworthiness. This, of course, is diametrically opposed to her true nature and just goes to demonstrate the innate stupidity of anthropomorphism. This logical solecism has, on many occasions, led complete strangers, apparently otherwise rational people, to change their natural voices for nauseating cooing tones and utter such twee drivel as 'What a pretty cat' and 'such a round face'.
Well, it wasn't very round now.
Actually, that's not strictly true. The right side of her face retained its prior rotundity in all its deceitful glory. The left side, by contrast, was swollen to several times its original dimensions and looked as if some mad scientist had grafted the flange from an alpha male orang-utan onto it and then surgically inserted a goose's egg, just for the Hell of it.
I palpated it. She didn't jump, yowl, scratch or bite, which surprised me. Beneath the skin it appeared to have the consistency of Play-Do. I was tempted to see if I could tweak it about with my fingers and make a recognisable facsimile of Jabba the Hutt. Shouldn't have been too difficult, it was halfway there already. A picture of that would go viral on the interweb in nanoseconds. Cats, deformity and Return of the Jedi? - hits all the internet buttons. It couldn't lose.
However, Liz pulled the plug on my social media ambitions and insisted we get her to a vet. (Einstein, that is, not Liz). This proved rather difficult in the middle of rural Spain and anyway, given the rather ambivalent attitude the Spanish have to animals, we couldn't be sure the vet wouldn't just throw her off the nearest church steeple or surround her with men on horseback sticking tiny darts in her shoulders before handing the nearest eight year old a red napkin and an old kebab skewer and telling him to finish her off. We decided to give it one more day, by which time we'd be in France where they are much more sympathetic to animals. Unless, of course, they think there's an outside chance they might be able to eat them.
The next day things had continued to fail to improve. They had changed, but not exactly improved. The swelling was still there but a small hole had opened up and she was now smearing a fragrant and savoury mixture of blood and pus over everything she came into contact with - furniture, bedding, clothes, humans. We headed for Grondin, near Bordeaux, hoping that the campsite management could arrange a vet for us.
And so it came to pass that there arrived in the town of Grondin a sorry company, besmeared with gore and suppuration, accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth (not to mention frantic scrubbing with bleach). "Woe", they cried to the assembled townsfolk in anguish, "Bring to us a vet, that we may be delivered from the agonies of smeared pus and other distasteful bodily fluids."
But vet was there none.
'Sorry Squire' came the terse response, " Shut 'til Thursday - try Nantes."
So Nantes it was. After another day's drive we arrived in the campsite. I was idly glancing through the back of the introduction pack when one of the adverts jumped out at me.
It was for a vet.
A vet, in Nantes, that did house calls.
I rang him up.
"Be with you in a couple of hours" he said, "as soon as I've finished castrating this camel." At least, I think that's what he said, my French is still somewhat rudimentary.
The man was true to his word. He turned up two hours later in a van that would have been at home in a G4S cash transfer fleet. Metal grilles and bars all over it. 'What the Hell did he transport in it', I wondered, 'Rabid apex predators with serious anger management issues?'
He examined Einstein and pronounced that she had a severe abscess which needed an immediate operation. Had we left it any longer it would have resulted in 'mutilation ou mort'. We understood that bit. So, I suspect, did Einstein.
The vet went to his van while we converted the campervan saloon and dining table into a makeshift operating theatre. Plastic tablecloths served as drapes and a couple of LED headlights stood in for theatre lights. He returned with two armoured cases that converted into sliding drawers of instruments and drug trays by a cunning arrangement of slots, runners and levers. With those, the three of us and a by now highly suspicious cat, the campervan was getting distinctly cosy.
He announced that he would need to anaesthetise her. Bloody right. I'd want to be completely comatose if you intended to start slicing great chunks out of my face. He gave Liz a pair of armoured gloves and told her to hold the cat, then loaded up a hypodermic and gave her an intramuscular in the bum. (Einstein, not Liz). She took it very well, considering. (Both of them).
In less than ten minutes she was slumped on the table staring vacantly into space. (I won't overplay the running gag). "What was in that syringe?" I asked. "Ketamine" he replied. That explained the armoured car appearance of his van. It wasn't to keep wild animals in, but the local junkies out. I bet he didn't leave it parked outside his house overnight.
We shifted seamlessly into M*A*S*H condition. The vet assumed the role of Hawkeye whilst Liz morphed into Hotlips Houlihan and effortlessly fell back into scrub nurse mode. I, meanwhile, slipped into a fetching little floral number and took on the persona of Corporal Klinger and the responsibilities of runner.
The vet squatted down on his haunches and peered into the small pool of light. I will spare you the full, gory details of the procedure out of deference to the delicate sensibilities of our readers (especially those of a squeamish nature and/or those who blanch at the prospect of slicing up living pussies). Suffice it to say that it entailed deft wielding of a scalpel and the squeezing out about a duck-egg's worth of gunge the colour of mustard mayonnaise and the consistency of Devon full fat clotted cream. The smell though was cloyingly emetic. Even I could smell it and I've been anosmic for twenty years.
I had always been of the impression that I was relaxed in my attitude to stress or crisis and reasonably detached in dealing with either. It must, I thought, have been more stressful than I had realized. While we were clearing up and sorting out Einstein for the recovery ward (The toilet cubicle, since you ask), I noticed that my hands were shaking quite noticeably. Throughout all of this there was not a peep out of Einstein - good stuff that ketamine.
Ketamine has had a tad of an undeserved bad press. If you really need to blot out the horrible reality of life and get comfortably numb it's not all bad. Medically, it has a lot going for it. For a start it's almost impossible to OD on the stuff. In addition, it doesn't depress breathing and heart-rate like most other anaesthetics. Coming off it though is another matter. How do hallucinations, seizures, raised blood pressure and spasms of the larynx sound to you?
So - all done and sorted and back on schedule. The next morning, we climbed into the cab and gave each other wry smiles of relief. I turned key...
*My old mum used to say that anyone whose tie was lighter than his shirt was a spiv.